WASHINGTON Ė Among the very bad things that happened here last week (June 29) when a derecho storm hammered the nationís capital and its suburbs was the collapse of the regionís 911 emergency communications system.
Verizonís backup power system was supposed to at least keep the 911 network operating despite widespread power outages that kept sweating utility customers in the dark for days. But Verizonís backup power system failed, much to the horror of local governments and officials who work to maintain emergency communications. ďVery troubling,Ē said one emergency communications specialist with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The aftermath of the huge storm serves as a stark reminder of the fragility of Verizonís network as well as the need for more reliable sources of backup power needed to keep critical infrastructure like 911 networks online. As millions around here also learned, you canít do anything without power.
Given the severity of recent summer storms, wild fires in the West and hurricane season peaking in August, the sooner this new network is deployed, the better.
As for backup power, some are advocating that remote cell towers and other network elements use more reliable backup power with higher power densities. One proposal being pitched by energy industry consultants is using lithium ion batteries for backup power. So far, program officials are shying away from the high cost of the emerging battery technologies. Proponents view the new network as a way to scale up Li-ion battery production to reduce manufacturing costs.
Either way, program officials and network operators must find and deploy a fail-safe backup power system so that critical networks like 911 donít fail the next time a fast-moving derecho storm pops up in the Midwest and knocks out every part of the power grid in its path.
In the town I live in (in New Mexico), they have a law that all power lines are supposed to be buried. The utility, however, charges a significant amount extra to do so and keeps requesting a variance! This is in spite of the existing utilities in neighborhoods being buried (except higher power lines).
BTW, to be clear, the "incompetence" I alluded to above is from the top. Not the crews. The crews work their hind ends off, as far as I have been able to see.
This sort of "do nothing" approach comes strictly from the top execs. These are strategic decisions, and the top execs are entrusted to make them.
And what's most annoying is that it takes a politician to make such an obvious suggestion, while Pepco keeps coming back with the same old platitudinous(?) excuses. It should be the utilities pushing for this, if for no other reason than to make themselves look a little less incompetent.
Even that $5B estimate shouldn't dissuade anyone, if it's stretched out of many many years. I've seen quotes of $125 premium per customer per month, but that's silly. It seems designed to make people say no, and who knows why anyone would want "no." All depends on how rapidly the work is done, right? Stretched out over many years, perhaps where the most vulnerable neighborhoods are addressed first, the cost per month can be spread out and would become reasonable.
We see DC city council member Mary Cheh is proposing that Pepco bury more of its power lines:
I don't believe that, George. Not if it's done intelligently.
The major problems are in tree-lined neighborhoods. Those are the areas where the most time-consuming breaks occur. Trees along the major arteries are much easier to keep trimmed back from the higher tension lines, and they are much easier for crews to get to if they should break.
For instance, I have a colleague whose power lines are strung BEHIND his house. Very difficult for crews to get to. All has to be done manually, because you can't even get cherry picker trucks back there. He has been without power for as long as a week at a time more times than I can even remember. Often more than once a year. That's really bush-league service.
If the crews were less busy with nuisance situations like his, any other loss of service would be fixed a lot sooner.
And again, this doesn't have to be done overnight. It can be done over the space of decades.
Much talk about burying cable, but it is prohibitively expensive in metro areas, especially for cost-cutting utilities like PEPCO in DC and suburban Maryland. The best we can hope for is buried lines in critical areas and maybe a little more tree trimming. In the meantime, buy a generator.
While speaking to my wife last night from San Francisco, her landline went dead. The reason?: A Dominion Power transformer in our N. Virginia neighborhood blew. Luckily, power was restored before the milk curdled in the frig.
I could not agree more wrt burying the cables. All we ever get from the power utility execs is generic stuff (translated "platitudes") about "costs," as if burying these cables in the older neighborhoods needs to be done overnight. Even if it takes 30 years to do so, every year will be an improvement over the previous one. The effort is finite, because all of the new neighborhoods DO have buried utilities.
The other thing is, there is cost in importing all the extra crews, and there is cost to consumers in terms of wasted food, in terms of incovenience, in terms of the potential for frozen pipes in winter, in terms of lost work hours for those with home offices. There are tremendous costs to continuing with their "do nothing" attitude.
And honestly, the disadvantages of buried cables cannot compare with the widespread blackouts we have been experiencing, where I live, over the past several years. Either for hurricanes, for heavy snows, or for summer storms. The occasional accident from a cable break caused by a back hoe at a construction site hardly compares.
The conduit idea is great. In our neighborhood, they used some sort of "mole" machine when they replaced some of the underground cables. No need to dig trenches.
When I hear the excuses from the utility execs, it really ticks me off. Nothing will EVER get done if these guys make the excuses.
There are generally two types of backup beyond the local batteries. One is a local diesel generator, which needs to be tested and work, the second is generators on wheels to be taken to places where a permanent diesel is not appropriate (such as no room for an underground tank). But, with such a large storm, the probability that one or more of the generators won't start is non-zero. Road blockage can also prevent mobile generators from getting where they are needed.
What I don't understand is why there is the resistance to burying the electrical cables, which would prevent most of the outage. Last summer, our utility pulled new empty plastic conduit to existing transformers with underground wiring. This was presumably because the cables in our 40 year old neighborhood are starting to fail, and the conduit will allow replacements to be installed quickly when a cable fails. No cables were actually pulled through the conduit. If they can afford this, they should be able to afford installing underground wiring in other places. It's a city-owned utility, but still has cheaper rates than the privately owned company that services most of the rest of the region.
I was not left in the dark as I do not live in that area of the country, but I have experienced many power outages here in the North-East. I as a home owner (on a well) I rely on a gas generator to supply my emergency power and although I wish that I had access to Natural Gas (instead of gasoline for fuel) using regular gas and running a generator just works. Not only does it work but it is not a very expensive investment. I am wondering why the cell phone companies don't invest in natural gas fueled generators for their emergency power backups (or diesel)?
And now, look back at the article about defense spending.
For reasons that Verizon was unable to articulate, we lost broadband access for 6 days, following the storm. Thank goodness we had power, we had voice telephone, and we even had a solid ATM link to the central office. But PPP from the central office was down, and therefore no broadband available, on the very same copper pairs that provide voice. For six days. Still can't fathom why, or why Verizon couldn't explain it to us.
Although severe battle damage can certainly result in long outages in military platforms, a 6-day outage when all the associated systems are working would be inexcusable.
As to the FiOS battery backup limit, I'm not sure I understand why anyome would be surprised. The fiber cable to the house does not carry electricity to power the box or the phone lines internal to the home. All you have is a small, local battery, with limited life. Surely the FiOS people explained this when they did the installation.
Yes, I'm certainly not in any hurry to be "upgraded to FiOS." Verizon would be better off first making their broadband service close to being as reliable as their regular voice telephone service is. Or do they prefer to have government regulations written, to make this happen?